Opera in your garden

Anna and Angus Simmons. Photo: John Borren.

Fancy a spot of garden opera at your birthday? Operatic duo Angus and Anna Simmons have found a way to continue to bring people live music during COVID-19 Alert Level 2.

The husband-and-wife duo are offering private opera concerts across Tauranga, bringing classical music to gardens and driveways.

Titled ‘Opera in Giardino’ - Italian for ‘Opera in the Garden’ - performances are contactless and restricted to the host and their friends, to ensure complete safety and compliance with Level 2 conditions.

“Lockdown has been a new challenge but one in which we have been able to adapt,” says Anna.

“We were living in Auckland but had to come to Tauranga after all our housesitting bookings - seven months’ worth - disappeared overnight as people cancelled their overseas holidays.”

The couple have been staying in Matua with Anna’s aunt and uncle.

“They have been incredibly generous and kind to us. Lockdown has given us time to learn new repertoire and focus on the practical side of singing.”

During lockdown Anna and Angus came up with Opera in Giardino as an innovative way to help keep live music alive.

“Our arts practitioners are an enterprising bunch,” says Creative Bay of Plenty general manager, Meg Davis. “This is just one example of how the arts is engaging with audiences in unique ways. It exemplifies innovation.”

Angus and Anna met in 2017 during New Zealand Opera’s national touring production of The Mikado. The rest, as they say, is history.

“Since then we have performed together on many occasions such as in recitals, in operas and at other private events,” says Angus.

Anna was born and raised in Tauranga, growing up in Welcome Bay. She then went to Waikato University where she completed an Honours Degree in Music. Angus is from Christchurch and studied for four years at the University of Canterbury, also completing his Honours in Music.

Anna says that live theatre, music, concerts, dance – anything that draws an audience to a venue – was the first industry to shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic hit New Zealand.

“It will be the last part of New Zealand’s culture, and economy that will reopen, whenever that may be.

“We gathered that people are craving some form of live entertainment, despite how good Spotify and Netflix are, and so we brainstormed how we could bring our voices directly to them.”

The couple designed a poster and logo and launched their idea on Facebook.

“Twelve hours later and the inbox was full with booking requests!” says Anna.

“It has been a crazy response but proves how hungry people are for some live entertainment now we are in Level 2.”

The operatic duo have ensured that Level 2 safety requirements are fully met.

“We have notified local police of our new initiative and ring them on the day to let them know the addresses we are performing at and what times,” says Angus.

“This ensures that no false breaches are reported.”

They sing for no more than groups of eight people, making a total of ten.

“And we keep at least two metres from our audiences at all time so we are not entering their social circle,” says Anna.

“We also have a caution sign which we place outside the property which states that only residents who are attending the performances may enter. Angus has done a bit of work with Health and Safety so we have been extremely cautious and attentive on this.”

They may consider carrying on with Opera in Giardino once the country returns to Level 1 and beyond.

“At the moment we don’t know which way is up, as the past few days have been crazy!” says Anna. “Early impressions are that there is obviously a market for this and it is super convenient for people.”

They are planning to move to Germany later this year, depending on the COVID-19 situation.

“But there is no reason why we couldn’t involve singers who are in New Zealand or continue the idea in Europe!”

“Our sector is quite literally bringing creative experience to our doorsteps. I hope this type of thinking continues,” says Meg.

To book your own private opera concert contact Anna and Angus on: operaingiardino@gmail.com or find them on: www.facebook.com/operaingiardino

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